Something new is always a good idea

I’ve been enjoying learning the ropes from a cool bunch of writers on Facebook who are dedicated to writing LOTS of books. They say the more books you have out, the easier it is for readers to find you and thus, the better your revenue stream will be. That means money, to the writer. Crass and commercial as that may seem to some writers and readers, it’s impossible to not think about money. It gives the writer space to be creative, time to dream, and a reason to write another book.

Frenchman announcementAs my fifth book in my Bennett Sisters Mysteries launches I feel this effect. When I run some cheap ads on Facebook for the new book, people discover the whole series. Now at five, there is some heft, some reason for people to think about connecting long-term to these characters.

I’ve also been doing a blog tour for The Frenchman, the new one, and wrote this guest post about how the characters have changed, and I’ve changed in my understanding of them over the years. (See Beth’s post on Shelf Rider.)

As I launch the fifth installment in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series it occurs to me that one of the joys of writing a long series is the chance to really dig deep into the personalities of the characters. Although I originally conceived of the series as linked stand-alones about each of the five sisters, the first book, Blackbird Fly, centered on the middle sister, Merle. When I eventually continued the series, I continued Merle’s journey of self-discovery after the sudden death of her husband. It just made sense that one summer sojourn in France wouldn’t cure all her problems, lovely as France might be.

discoverFranceagainSo Merle has a Frenchman. Initially, like Merle, I didn’t see how a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across an ocean would work. How could she work in New York City and Pascal work all over France’s wine country and they continue a romance? Because, although I didn’t write the series as a romance, women have love affairs— have you noticed? And they like to read about them. Merle’s affair with Pascal might have just been a fling, a curative, that first summer. But as the series goes along it’s obvious that Pascal thinks of it as something more. Although Merle isn’t sure what he thinks— he’s a Frenchman and you know how they are— her feelings mature, especially in this fifth book.

Their relationship is an underpinning in the novels to intrigue, sisterhood, and the joys and trials of mid-life. The sisters range in age from 40 to 55, or so, and I try to find aspects of women’s lives that are interesting and challenging. Life can be hard but reading about how other women make choices and navigate the pitfalls is helpful and revealing to me, and I hope to readers.

As a writer you never know how readers will react to your characters. Will they think them weak and stupid for their choices? (Yes, I’ve had that review.) Or will they identify with them, cheer for them, hope for them? That’s what I live for, that identification from the reader. I am not an Everywoman myself. I am opinionated and cranky and sometimes not that nice. Also, funny, a good friend, a loving parent— I hope. We all have so many aspects. I see some of myself in each of the five Bennett Sisters. I am a middle sister myself though, that’s why Merle appeals to me.

I recently had a review of Blackbird Fly that made all the writing worthwhile. (I love that readers are still discovering the series.) A reader said “The main character, Merle Bennett, could have been me, though I’m not a lawyer, have never inherited a house in France, and never had her problems. The writing puts you in the book.”

Right there, that’s why I write.

Then, if you love France like I do, the reviewer says that for her, at least, I got something right: “I’ve spent enough time in France to know that Albert, Mme Suchet, and the others in the village who snubbed, helped, or sabotaged Merle are just so … French. The story unfolds just as it should along with Merle’s self-discovery and personal regrets.”

And so Merle’s journey continues in The Frenchman. Who is the Frenchman, you ask? There is of course Pascal, Merle’s Frenchman. But there are many more in this book, policemen and old villagers, young punks and charming neighbors. And in Merle’s novel, chapters of which are included in the novel, there are Frenchmen from the Revolutionary period: farmers and rebels, nobles and royals, villagers and strangers. I had such fun writing Merle’s novel— which will be fleshed out and published separately as well— about a goat-herder who flees the terror in Paris for a farm in the Dordogne. Merle calls it ‘Odette and the Great Fear,’ and it will be available soon as an e-book.

I hope your writing and reading goes well as we ease into chilly weather– the best time to read and write! Happy autumn.


What the hell is Twitter for?

It’s one of those questions that has a dozen answers.Twitter_logo_blue

This is what Twitter is about, according to somebody.

  • Communication.
  • Connection.
  • Conversation.
  • Knowledge.
  • Advertising.
  • Business.
  • Branding.

Not to mention social change, public shaming, pornography, bigotry, and random idiocy.

Like many social media sharing sites, Twitter is many things to many people. So as a writer how do you use Twitter effectively, without pissing off those people, lovely each and every one of them, who have decided you have something to say worth listening to?

Writing something meaningful in 140 characters is difficult. Ask any celebrity who has been misunderstood, or tweeted a photo of his private areas instead of writing what he really meant.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 6.12.17 PMOf course if you’re well-known you can say anything cute and get all sorts of cute attention.

And if you talk about Twitter on Twitter, well, that is so meta. Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 6.08.26 PM



But for the author how does Twitter work? Can you sell a book, or even get some name recognition through a barrage of tweets? That’s debatable. Lots of authors use Twitter to promote their books. I “belong” to a group of authors who use social media. It’s called ASMSG: Author Social Media Support Group. There is no fee for being part of this group of independently published authors some 1000 strong. They are good about re-tweeting when you use the hashtag #asmsg.

But here’s what I’ve found. A direct plea, “buy my book,” is not effective on Twitter. Unless your audience is already aware of your book or your writing, a tweet, even an endless barrage of them, has very little effect. There are TONS of novels out there, all by people you’ve never heard of.

This doesn’t stop some people from being clever and funny and sales-y on Twitter. If you have a huge following, like Cindy Blackburn who writes funny mysteries, this will probably work. 

Keep in mind though that Cindy has 55,000 Twitter followers. That’s right. 55k. And she got a grand total of 16 retweets for that tweet.


Another big mystery author on Twitter is Jinx Schwartz who has 16,000 followers. She is an avid user of hashtags and connects with mystery authors (as I do) using #murdermust. This hashtag was developed by Jeffrey Marks of the Yahoo Group, Murder Must Advertise.

I love this group but we still haven’t figured out how to use Twitter to maximum or even average effectiveness. I don’t think any of the groups I use have. Such is the mystery of Twitter.

Big brands use Twitter to get people interested in products, contests, memes, movies, songs, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and more. But they’re brands you already know. Would you click on something or somebody who wanted to sell you something you never heard of? Me neither.

The one thing that Twitter helps writers do is point readers toward their long form posts. Blog posts, articles, Facebook (maybe), something out there in the big wide world that gives readers more of a view of who you are and what you write. Facebook is similar in this way. You won’t get lots of people to read long posts on Facebook unless you have a huge following. Photos and videos are the click magnet these days. But using social media to point readers to whatever else you have on offer is a good marketing ploy.

Don’t discount Twitter however. It’s easy to look away, to say, “I don’t understand Twitter. I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it. It freaks me out! It’s for young people or hip people or somebody who isn’t me.”

But if you’re like me, some of your kids and other young people in your circle use Twitter like email. Like texting to tons of people. I resisted myself but it hasn’t killed me, folks.

My advice: Don’t get left behind. Figure your own way through to Twitter. Do some things, try some hashtags. It may be a disaster but, hey, you won’t lose any money doing it.

My new favorite hashtag? One of my readers did it! #TeamPascal By putting in a search for your name in Twitter (without the @) you can find random readers who post about your book like I did with Meg. “Connecting with new reader = awesome” Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 7.58.34 PM

Below is my latest Tweet. Come play with me! @lisemcclendon

And yes, I have a new box set out with five awesome authors! And, sigh, I have tweeted about it.

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